Cley, Norfolk – St Margaret

We had a good hour in Blakeney Church, then caught the bus the short hop to Cley. Cley windmill is rather nice b&b (a bit above my price range) with its own website – http://www.cleywindmill.co.uk/the-mill/history/. Probably built about 1819. We found a nice café, though it wouldn’t be Julie friendly.

St Margaret’s church is to the south of the village – TG 048432. The parish website is at https://glavenvalleychurches.org.uk/cley-church/, and it is worth mentioning the wonderful Norfolk Churches site – http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/cley/cley.htm. When he visited in 2004, Simon Knott took many excellent photos, and told the story of the church with much more skill than me. He ended his blog with a comment: “This church had been built for so much more than congregational worship, but this was all it could now do; as if the Anglican community was camped out uneasily in its ruins, in the vastness of something so wholly beyond their imagination.” Fifteen years later, and I wonder if I can dare to suggest that the Anglican community in at least some of these churches is starting to realise we must do more than just camp out. We walked down to find all the doors wide open, and Borderlines in place.

“Every summer, Cley Contemporary Arts offers locals, returning visitors and tourists the chance to encounter the perspectives of artists on their connections to Norfolk”. This year guest curators Theodora Lecrinier and Hannah Turner Wallis of Dyad Creative have selected 40 works by 43 artists to reflect on the theme of Borderlines. They are on show in St Margaret’s, in the churchyard, and at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust centre. More information at www.cleycontemporaryart.org

I have to say that modern art does nothing for me, but it was wonderful seeing the church well used. I hope that the busyness of the summer (and I hope some money) gets them through the winter. It was disappointing seeing that this is a church with a bat problem – I am sorry if I offend the wildlife lobby, but bat urine and faeces are destroying many of our medieval churches, and demoralising many of our congregations.

Wiveton church is less than a mile away across the river – a river which would once have been busy with local fishermen and men who traded further afield, across the North Sea as part of the Hanseatic League. Their wealth is seen in this church – we’ll look at the shields by the South Door later.

You will notice that the tower is on the north side, and this was probably the line of the original church. In the C13 the church was rebuilt – chancel first, then the Nave. The work is similar to that of John Ramsey, who was master mason to Bishop Salmon of Norwich and the Cathedral Priory, and then later in Ely. He was probably the designer, but left the work to others. The work on the Nave and Transepts probably started around 1315. The nave was lengthened and the west front built in the 1340s – perhaps they planned a new tower, but ran out of money. The Nave was heightened in the mid 1400s – enjoy the carvings.

I can’t tell you which artist did which piece of art – although the booklet gives me titles and a biography, it is not always easy to work out which is which. The orange banner behind the altar is called “The Essence of Eveything”. I’d pick up Eucharistic symbolism – the catalogue does not.

In the south aisle is an installation by Joy Pitts entitled ‘3000 Used Garments’. “Like birds and humans, garments migrate from one country, region, or place to another. Starting life as plants for harvesting, followed by weaving and finishing, garment production, shipping and distribution. These 3,000 garments have been intercepted allowing them to pause at St Margaret’s church before completing their journey. This installation reflects the support and inclusion offered in the context of the church.” That gave me pause for thought.

In the north aisle ‘Encroach’ by Henri Lacoste shows Norfolk as the sea level rises. Our collective weakness to do anything about it is challenged. The geographer in me could relate to this one.

In the west porch was this triangle. Is it the catalogue’s fault that I can’t identify it – or my fault for not giving the exhibition the time it deserved?

There’s some lovely woodwork too. The fine octagonal Jacobean oak pulpit dates from 1611 – it’s too fine to be left to the mercy of the bats. Some of the benches are C15- enjoy the faces. In the Chancel the six misericords are rather lovely. The underside of each one is carved with the initials JG, a merchant’s mark, and the Grocers’ Arms. These arms were not granted until 1532. JG may represent John Greneway – the Greneway family were connected with Cley. A Thomas G was church warden here in 1553 and a Ralph G was an alderman of London in the same decade.

The font dates from the middle of the C15 – this type of font was new and fashionable in the 1460s. (I love the idea of it being a fashionable font – was there a maker of such fashionable fonts? Where did you purchase it from? How did you choose it? Was there a font catalogue? Can anyone tell me?). It shows the seven sacraments.

There is a little early glass, but much of it is early C20 – I like the mill.

Here’s an interesting memorial. I wonder why he died at 42, and how she coped with her six children.

I went out into the South Porch. It can be dated to between 1405 and 1414. Full of carving, heraldry, and the shields of the various families who were instrumental in the building of the church. The family of Sir John de Vaux had been granted land by the Normans. A charter of 1265 says he was granted land by Henry III. He owned land at Boston and at Cley, both important ports. He was the first of many wealthy and important men, and their families, to be linked to this church. They are probably also the sort of people who bought art (art which would have been ‘modern’ at the time they purchased it!). I don’t know who made the banners in the churchyard.

There are fascinating gravestones as well. Thank you, good people of Norfolk, for caring for such lovely churches.

We walked back into the village, then caught the bus on to Sheringham. We had time for a walk down to the beach, then had coffee by the North Norfolk Railway before catching our train to Norwich. On to Ely where Elaine left, and I continued to Nottingham, then down to East Midland Parkway with arrival at 2215. I pack a lot into a day!

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